By CHRIS McMANES — The DeMatha offense has its hand on the throttle. The defense is already raring to go.
The Stags rode their veteran defense to a 27-8 win over Imhotep Charter on Aug. 31. After being whitewashed in its opener, DeMatha needed a positive outcome.
“It was a tough week,” Stags Coach Elijah Brooks said, “but it showed a lot of character for our guys to come up against a very good Imhotep team, go down eight to nothing and respond with 27 unanswered points.”
Eric Najarian threw two touchdown passes to DeMarcco Hellams, and Marshawn Lloyd scored twice on the ground for the Deer Men (1-1).
The first game between the two schools was played at rainy Johnston Memorial Stadium in Philadelphia. The Panthers (1-1), coming off a 34-10 win over LaSalle, were ranked No. 7 in the East by USA Today.
Hellams set up DeMatha’s first touchdown when he hauled in a 51-yard pass-and-run from Najarian to the Imhotep 3-yard line. Lloyd scored two plays later. Junior Melteon Davis set up the Stags’ next score when he recovered a Steve DePaul fumble at the Panthers’ 7.
On third-and-goal from the 4, Najarian found Hellams with single coverage in the left corner of the end zone. His TD and Joey Hood’s extra point gave DeMatha a 13-8 lead at halftime.
Hellams, who has committed to sign with Alabama, had three receptions for 82 yards.
The Stags turned up the defensive pressure on the Panthers’ first second-half possession by forcing a three-and-out. Josh Wallace made a superb play the next time Imhotep had the ball when he caught Tykee Smith from behind following a 28-yard gain and dislodged the ball at midfield.
DeMatha proceeded to march 49 yards in five plays. Lloyd carried twice for 21 yards before Najarian found Jermaine Johnson for seven. Hellams punctuated the drive with a 17-yard scoring aerial. The TD extended the Stags’ lead to 20-8 one play into the fourth quarter.
Meanwhile, DeMatha’s post-break defense prevented the Panthers from crossing into Stags’ territory until the reserves entered the game late. Senior safety Nick Cross roamed the field making big hits and generally disrupting the offense. He added an interception and 25-yard return to the Imhotep 5.
The Stags couldn’t punch it in but did later from the 8 following a pass break-up by senior Delaware recruit Mekai Davis. Lloyd’s second rushing TD accounted for DeMatha’s final margin of victory.
Melteon Davis highlighted the Stags’ final defensive series with an 8-yard sack and a tackle that prevented the Panthers from converting on fourth down. Junior Harold Peters’ leaping one-handed interception was ruled good by one official but overturned by another.
“Our defense has been playing with a lot of energy,” Brooks said. “Those guys are flying around. I like the intensity they’re playing with. They’re excited to play with each other. They’re sound, they’re tackling, and our team is feeding off it.”
Najarian was also impressed with how his defensive teammates performed.
“The defense played great today,” he said. “It really makes the offense’s job easier. The defense had a shutout because [Imhotep’s] touchdown was on special teams. When they can force turnovers, give us the ball with a short field, and just get stops and get the ball in our hands as much as possible, it makes our jobs really easy.”
A week after a forgettable performance in a 38-0 loss to nationally ranked St. Thomas Aquinas in South Florida, DeMatha turned to its cream-of-the-crop players to leave Eastern Pennsylvania on top.
“We’ve been preaching all week that in big games, in any game, your playmakers, your stars have to make plays,” Brooks said. “I think DeMarcco, Eric, Nick Cross and many [other] seniors decided they were going to step up and make big plays. [Like senior] Josh Wallace with the fumble strip.
“So, all the way around, you saw guys making those plays this week to turn momentum. That was the difference in the game.”
O-line struggling & improving
The Stags’ offensive line, its biggest question mark entering the season, continues to struggle in the running game. Lloyd, a junior entertaining several high-major scholarship offers, has found little running room in the first two games.
“We’ve got to do a better job at the point of attack,” Brooks said. “Our backs are scratching and clawing for every yard they can get. As a unit we just have to focus on executing better next week.”
Following intermission, the line did a better job in pass protection. Najarian finished 9 of 18 for 98 yards. Brooks said his 6-foot-4 signal caller played “much better” than in the opener.
“I think that’s because our line improved with protection, [and] our receivers did a good job making plays for him,” he said. “I was just happy to see guys take steps forward.”
“The offensive line gave me great time [to throw], and the outside [receivers] made a lot of plays,” Najarian said. “It makes my job really easy.”
Senior punter and place kicker Joey Hood is off to a great start. He averaged 41 yards on five punts vs. Imhotep, including two inside the 20. His longest traveled 53 yards. Hood also launched a first-quarter kickoff into the end zone and made all three of his extra points.
For the year, the 5-10, 185-pounder is averaging 38.3 yards per punt.
Things didn’t look good for DeMatha early when Jaasim Smith broke through the right side of the Stags’ line and blocked Hood’s punt inside the 10-yard-line. Smith recovered the ball in the end zone.
Imhotep set up for the extra point but elected to go for two after DeMatha was penalized for having 12 men on the field. The two-pointer was good, and the Stags trailed 8-0 less than six minutes into the game.
Cross heading to Florida state capital
Nick Cross finally made it official Sept. 2 by declaring his intention to play for Florida State in Tallahassee. The Seminoles won out over Penn State. Other schools under serious consideration included Florida, Alabama and Auburn. The St. Jerome graduate, who helped lead the Jaguars to the 2015 CYO Mid-Atlantic city basketball championship, is a consensus four-star safety.
Cross turns 17 on Sept. 10.
DeMatha is ranked eighth in the latest Washington Post poll. Other Washington Catholic Athletic Conference foes in the top 10 include No. 1 St. John’s (2-0); No. 2 Gonzaga (2-0); and No. 6 Good Counsel (1-0).
The Stags travel to Reisterstown, Md., to face Franklin (1-0) on Friday at 7 p.m. It will be DeMatha’s third straight road game. The Indians opened with a 26-8 victory over Woodlawn in Baltimore on Aug. 31.
The contest will be the first of four straight the Stags are participating in to help defeat childhood cancer. Pledges are now being accepted.
Chris McManes (mick-maynz) has won three national writing awards for the Hyattsville Life & Times. He is in his fourth season covering DeMatha football.